Sheep don’t care about quarantines and isolation. Luci Cook and Michael Holcomb, the husband and wife owners of Stregare Baking Company, have learned that first hand.
Earlier this year, the couple went through their first lambing season as they build their dairy sheep herd. Two of the three new lambs require bottle feeding.
So how did a pair of home bakers, who started by making cheesecakes for friends at the holidays, end up with a dairy sheep herd? Well, it started with a desire to recreate a taste from a trip to Italy.
When Luci and Michael bought a 5-acre farm in Bastrop in 2015, they wanted to stay in control of quality, says Luci, and continue their belief that farm-to-table isn’t a trend, but a way of life. The farm now includes chickens, pear, fig, plum, and peach trees. “If you order a peach cheesecake from us, the peaches are from our trees,” says Luci.
So after a trip to Italy, when Michael decided to create a traditional Roman-style cheesecake, which uses ricotta for the filling instead of cream cheese, the search was on to find organically sourced ingredients, specifically sheep’s milk ricotta.
After looking for sheep ricotta and or anything sheep dairy for over a year, Michael gave up looking. Instead, they started researching how to start their herd. At first, it didn’t seem possible. The best breeds of dairy sheep don’t do well in Texas heat, and those that could handle heat weren’t available in the US. A few years ago, that changed, and experts were able to crossbreed a new line, the Assaf sheep.
Luci and Michael have started the first herd of Assaf sheep in Texas with three ewes and one ram, says Luci, and earlier this year, their first lambs were born: a ewe and two rams. They expect to add seven more ewes by August.
Michael expects they’ll have milk available next year and says besides using it themselves, they’ll also be selling at the wholesale level to Texas-based cheesemakers. In the meantime, the couple is enjoying raising their little lambs (even if the lambs wouldn’t cooperate for a family photo)!